The Westchester Collaborative Theatre has been on a whirlwind beginning January when Alan Lutwin and Marshall Fine received a 2013 Arts Alive Grant from ArtsWestchester! The WCT is officially a non-profit 501C3 corporation and will be able to intensify its fund raising efforts and continued integration with the New York City theatre community in Westchester. This inspiring and vital group theatre continues to evolve productions and projects, some of which with further development may move to New York City venues. The artistic symmetry and free flowing energy between and among artists in Westchester and New York City move their currents back and forth. This company is open and flexible and inspired by its artists’ innovations. It is apparent they will not limit themselves.
LABS, where great work continues to be read and presented and where guest artists conduct workshops, now follow a new tri-monthly schedule. On March 21st Sheila Speller conducted an acting seminar workshop and on April 11th, John Pielmeier, author of Agnes of God was the Guest Artist. Buddy Crutchfield, director of the Off-Broadway hit Freckleface Strawberry, was the Guest Artist at the May 23 Lab.
During May, two events enabled WCT to contribute its energy and engage its directing and acting talent. One was in celebration of the Village of Ossining’s two hundred year birthday. Actors (including the current mayor) directed by Alan Lutwin dramatically recreated the first Ossinging Willage Board Meeting that was held in 1813. The event, “The Village of Sing-Sing, How It All Began,” was produced in the Town of Ossining Justice Court. WCT actor members who were in the production were Sherman Alpert, Jon Barb, Marilyn Colazzo, Janice Kirkel, Joe Lima, Ward Riley, Jeff Virgo and Howard Weintraub. These individuals linked their gifts to Ossinging’s history and had a ball. Lutwin who researched the project discovered, among many other interesting facts that some of Ossinging’s early residents had slaves. All slavery was banned in New York State on July 4, 1827.
The second event was a full length reading premier of White Suits on Sunday, a play by New Orleans/New York City playwright Rosary O’Neill directed by WCT member (actress and director) Elaine Hartel.
With the help of WCT, O’Neill has been developing the play and was thrilled that actors were able to portray the characters, allowing her to understand what sections of the play resonated and what dialogue, if any, needed tweaking. After the reading, discussion followed. Initially, O’Neill thought to entitle the play, Exposition Boulevard, referring to the play’s setting in the elite section of New Orleans. Then she reconsidered (She was raised in New Orleans in a wealthy family.) because those living on the real “Exposition Boulevard” might be offended. O’Neill’s play, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work, The Great Gatsby, peels the onion on the culture of wealth, but in New Orleans. (The play has themes similar to a TV series O’Neill also wrote, Heirs. The series is currently being option shopped by Executive Producers Wendy Kram and David Black.) O’Neill’s writings (plays, the TV series) about New Orleans reveal the rages, complexities, machinations of families in this elite class with often humorous results. It is a familiar subject dear to O’Neill’s heart.
The discussion after the reading which held praise for the playwright, the play, the director and actors also pinpointed that the title “Exposition Boulevard,” resonated with the action and themes. Considering the current productions about New Orleans on cable TV (Treme) the widest latitude about the cultural life of that amazing city should be explored and O’Neill’s work does that with humor, grace and depth. Hers is a rare look at New Orleans’ economic strata and a reminder that the gaps among rich and poor can only be melded if they are first examined.
The WCT continued June 1st, with its dynamic Spring Fundraiser at the Steamer Firehouse with their theme “Trash n’ Vaudeville.” Members dressed for the fun event in offbeat attire and enjoyed the food and drink during and after entertainment. The fundraiser signals that the summer season is in full swing. The SUMMERFEST 2013 plays which were announced in May are currently being worked on by the directors and actors and will be presented on Friday, June 28th at 7:30 pm and Saturday, June 29th at 2:00 PM. Five selected plays that participated in the Lab process will be performed: You Were Awesome by Bob Zaslow, Hedge Fund by Csaba Teglas, Excess Baggage by Carol Mark, Facebook Friends by Marshall Fine and Wander Inn by Ginny Reynolds.
While other theater groups languish for lack of vision, the Westchester Collaborative Theatre continues to move forward innovating, growing, pulsating life. WCT is fed by the creativity, ingenuity and vitality of its members. All are sustained by an immense passion for theater and the enjoyment and community of creative endeavor. This is a group to watch, nurture and hold dear. You “ain’t seen nothing, yet!”
Regional Theater is the engine that drives original theatrical productions and puts them on the map, moving them toward greatness. If new plays are nurtured and developed with love, effort and artistry, eventually they may be shepherded to Broadway. This is especially true if the theatrical group has an esprit de corps and inspired guide to watch over the flock of artists and their offerings. The beauty of such non profit theater is that there are no chains shackling its creativity. Without the pressures of time and money weighing heavily upon it, the best regional theaters make the most of their incredible opportunity to experiment, innovate and collaborate with a fluid mix of playwrights, actors and directors.
This has been the case with Westchester Collaborative Theater, established in 2011 in Ossining, New York. Within the span of barely two short years, this regional theater group’s productivity has burgeoned like Jack’s magical beanstalk. WCT has produced Winterfest 2011 and Winterfest 2012. These events included a number of Ten Minute Plays, original offerings by WCT member playwrights…world premiers, acted and directed by professionals and aspirants. With a variety of individuals at the ready, a spirit of generous camaraderie infuses openness and flexibility not regularly accessible in the closed atmosphere of stuffy professional theater which is hesitant to take risks.
A blessing for WCT is its proximity to New York City, the theater hub of the world. Guest artists who live in the area, like comedian Robert Klein (last year) and in November of this year, well known actor and filmmaker Campbell Scott, are able to share their talent and expertise and serve as an inspiration to veteran performers and engaged newbees. The atmosphere at WCT is creative and non threatening, the overriding risk of lousy box office receipts absent. WCT thrives on donations, grants and the good will of patrons and the surrounding community. It is a labor of love won by the efforts of dedicated individuals like Executive Director, Alan Lutwin, who adore live theater and the living moments of performance art.
This year’s Winterfest follows on the heels of a productive year for the Westchester Collaborative Theater which included the scheduled Summerfest of One-Act play readings, monthly LAB with developmental readings and talk backs about select playwrights’ works in progress and a full length play reading. As a result of WCT’s labs, playwright/director Michael Thomas Cain was able to develop his play and present Enough’s Enough at La MaMa E.T.C. in NYC as part of the 2012 NY International Fringe Festival.
The works-in progress initiative for playwrights, directors and actors has been exciting. Each week guest artists with years of experience in the entertainment industry engaged in readings and talk backs. In November award winning actor and director, Campbell Scott (Victor Geddes with Julia Roberts in Dying Young and the protagonist of David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner, Co-director of the award winning film, The Big Night with Stanley Tucci) performed a reading of The Wife and the Widow Next Store by Richard Manichello. The playwright, screenwriter, actor, poet (penned the award winning Choices of the Heart for television) who wrote Agnes of God, John Pielmeier (he also wrote the screenplay for the film Agnes of God) was another guest artist in November who shared his experiences and contributions to the theater and television community.
This season’s 2012 Winterfest of Ten Minute Plays included new members, professionals and those whose love of theater, writing, directing and acting have kept them involved in regional theater in the New York City area. Many of the artists’ works have appeared in Drama festivals in New York City and around the nation. Of these, some have been semi-finalists or finalists at the festivals, nominees of major prizes and award winners of other venues.
One such notable is Richard Manichello, 30 years in the entertainment business (actor, producer, Artistic Director of Peekskill Playhouse) and an Emmy Award-winning director and writer of stage, film and television. Manichello directed two plays for the WCT Winterfest. The first was Hooters, written by playwright Gabrielle Fox. Fox’ plays have been produced throughout New York City and the metro region. Manichello also directed Lava Sus Manos by playwright Jess Erick.
Another professional, Rosary O’Neill, whose work was presented at the Winterfest, like Manichello, has weighty career experience and many awards and fellowships under her belt. O’Neill who is from New Orleans is a published/produced playwright (22 published plays) novelist, actor, director and retired Professor of Drama and Speech at Loyola University of New Orleans. The fourth edition of her textbook, The Actor’s Checklist, is used in schools nationwide. O’Neill founded the Southern Repertory Theatre in New Orleans and for many years was its Artistic Director, producing a number of the plays she had written. The comedic 10 minute play “Turtle Soup,” directed by Elaine Hartel (actor and director for WCT and other New York regional theater groups) was excerpted from O’Neil’s semi-autobiographical play about a wealthy family in New Orleans, White Suits in Summer.
For more information about the Westchester Collaborative Theater’s 2012 Winterfest of Ten Minute Plays, the actors, directors and playwrights, or for information about membership in this active regional theater company, check their Facebook page, Westchester Collaborative Theater.
Not pictured, Take One for the Team by Carol Mark. Directed by Joe Albert Lima. With John Barbera as Will, Margie Ferris as Terri and Taku Hirai as Kevin.